Last week, a paper resulting from a collaboration with Stefanie Heß and Viktor Jonsson was published in Environmental Science & Technology. In the paper, we build a quantitative model for the emergence of antibiotic resistance genes in human pathogens and populate it using the few numbers that are available on different processes (bacterial uptake, horizontal gene transfer rates, rate of mobilization of chromosomal genes, etc.) in the literature (1).
In short, we find that in order for the environment to play an important role in the appearance of novel resistance genes in pathogens, there needs to be a substantial flow of bacteria from the environment to the human microbiome. We also find that most likely the majority of resistance genes in human pathogens have very small fitness costs associated with them, if any cost at all.
The model makes three important predictions:
- The majority of ARGs present in pathogens today should have very limited effects on fitness. The model caps the average fitness impact for ARGs currently present in human pathogens between −0.2 and +0.1% per generation. By determining the fitness effects of carrying individual ARGs in their current hosts, this prediction could be experimentally tested.
- The most likely location of ARGs 70 years ago would have been in human-associated bacteria. By tracking ARGs currently present in human pathogens across bacterial genomes, it may be possible to trace the evolutionary history of these genes and thereby identify their likely hosts at the beginning of the antibiotic era, similar to what was done by Stefan Ebmeyer and his colleagues (2). What they found sort-of corroborate the findings of our model and lend support to the idea that most ARGs may not originate in the environment. However, this analysis is complicated by the biased sampling of fully sequenced bacterial genomes, most of which originate from human specimens. That said, the rapid increase in sequencing capacity may make full-scale analysis of ARG origins using genomic data possible in the near future, which would enable testing of this prediction of the model.
- If the origins of ARGs currently circulating in pathogens can be established, the range of reasonable dispersal ability levels from the environment to pathogens narrows dramatically. Similarly, if the rates of mobilization and horizontal transfer of resistance genes could be better determined by experiments, the model would predict the likely origins more precisely. Just establishing a ball-park range for the mobilization rate would dramatically restrict the possible outcomes of the model. Thus, a more precise determination of any of these parameters would enable several more specific predictions by the model.
This paper has a quite interesting backstory, beginning with me having leftover time on a bus ride in Madison (WI), thinking about whether you could quantize the conceptual framework for resistance gene emergence we described in our 2018 review paper in FEMS Reviews Microbiology (3). This spurred the first attempt at such a model, which then led to Stefanie Heß and me applying for support from the Centre for Antibiotic Resistance Research at the University of Gothenburg (CARe) to develop this idea further. We got this support and Stefanie spent a few days with me in Gothenburg developing this idea into a model we could implement in R.
However, at that point we realized we needed more modeling expertise and brought in Viktor Jonsson to make sure the model was robust. From there, it took us about 1.5 years to refine and rerun the model about a million times… By the early spring this year, we had a reasonable model that we could write a manuscript around, and this is what now is published. It’s been an interesting and very nice ride together with Stefanie and Viktor!
- Bengtsson-Palme J, Jonsson V, Heß S: What is the role of the environment in the emergence of novel antibiotic resistance genes? A modelling approach. Environmental Science & Technology, Article ASAP (2021). doi: 10.1021/acs.est.1c02977 [Paper link]
- Ebmeyer S, Kristiansson E, Larsson DGJ: A framework for identifying the recent origins of mobile antibiotic resistance genes. Communications Biology 4 (2021). doi: 10.1038/s42003-020-01545-5
- Bengtsson-Palme J, Kristiansson E, Larsson DGJ: Environmental factors influencing the development and spread of antibiotic resistance. FEMS Microbiology Reviews, 42, 1, 68–80 (2018). doi: 10.1093/femsre/fux053 [Paper link]
I am happy to share the news that the paper describing out software tool Mumame is now out in its final form! (1) The paper got published today in the journal Metabarcoding and Metagenomics after being available as a preprint (2) since last autumn. This version has not changed a whole lot since the preprint, but it is more polished and better argued (thanks to a great review process). The software is virtually the same, but is not also available via Conda.
In the paper, we describe the Mumame software, which can be used to distinguish between wildtype and mutated sequences in shotgun metagenomic sequencing data and quantify their relative abundances. We further demonstrate the utility of the tool by quantifying antibiotic resistance mutations in several publicly available metagenomic data sets (3-6), and find that the tool is useful but that sequencing depth is a key factor to detect rare mutations. Therefore, much larger numbers of sequences may be required for reliable detection of mutations than is needed for most other applications of shotgun metagenomics. Since the preprint was published, Mumame has also found use in our recently published paper on selection for antibiotic resistance in a Croatian macrolide production wastewater treatment plant, unfortunately with inconclusive results (7). Mumame is freely available here.
I again want to stress the fantastic work that Shruthi Magesh did last year as a summer student at WID in the evaluation of this tool. As I have pointed out earlier, I did write the code for the software (with a lot of input from Viktor Jonsson), but Shruthi did the software testing and evaluations. Thanks and congratulations Shruthi, and good luck in pursuing your PhD program!
- Magesh S, Jonsson V, Bengtsson-Palme J: Mumame: A software tool for quantifying gene-specific point-mutations in shotgun metagenomic data. Metabarcoding and Metagenomics, 3: 59–67 (2019). doi: 10.3897/mbmg.3.36236
- Magesh S, Jonsson V, Bengtsson-Palme J: Quantifying point-mutations in metagenomic data. bioRxiv, 438572 (2018). doi: 10.1101/438572
- Bengtsson-Palme J, Boulund F, Fick J, Kristiansson E, Larsson DGJ: Shotgun metagenomics reveals a wide array of antibiotic resistance genes and mobile elements in a polluted lake in India. Frontiers in Microbiology, 5, 648 (2014). doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2014.00648
- Lundström S, Östman M, Bengtsson-Palme J, Rutgersson C, Thoudal M, Sircar T, Blanck H, Eriksson KM, Tysklind M, Flach C-F, Larsson DGJ: Minimal selective concentrations of tetracycline in complex aquatic bacterial biofilms. Science of the Total Environment, 553, 587–595 (2016). doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.02.103
- Pal C, Bengtsson-Palme J, Kristiansson E, Larsson DGJ: The structure and diversity of human, animal and environmental resistomes. Microbiome, 4, 54 (2016). doi: 10.1186/s40168-016-0199-5
- Kraupner N, Ebmeyer S, Bengtsson-Palme J, Fick J, Kristiansson E, Flach C-F, Larsson DGJ: Selective concentration for ciprofloxacin in Escherichia coli grown in complex aquatic bacterial biofilms. Environment International, 116, 255–268 (2018). doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2018.04.029
- Bengtsson-Palme J, Milakovic M, Švecová H, Ganjto M, Jonsson V, Grabic R, Udiković Kolić N: Pharmaceutical wastewater treatment plant enriches resistance genes and alter the structure of microbial communities. Water Research, 162, 437-445 (2019). doi: 10.1016/j.watres.2019.06.073
Let me get straight to something somewhat besides the point here: summer students can achieve amazing things! One such student I had the pleasure to work with this summer is Shruthi Magesh, and a preprint based on work she did with me at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery this summer just got published on bioRxiv (1). The preprint describes a software tool called Mumame, which uses database information on mutations in DNA or protein sequences to search metagenomic datasets and quantifies the relative proportion of resistance mutations over wild type sequences.
In the preprint (1), we first of all show that Mumame works on amplicon data where we already knew the true outcome (2). Second, we show that we can detect differences in mutation frequencies in controlled experiments (2,3). Lastly, we use the tool to gain some further information about resistance patterns in sediments from polluted environments in India (4,5). Together these analyses show that one of the most central aspects for Mumame to be able to find mutations is having a very high number of sequenced reads in all libraries (preferably more than 50 million per library), because these mutations are generally rare – even in polluted environments and microcosms exposed to antibiotics. We expect Mumame to be a useful addition to metagenomic studies of e.g. antibiotic resistance, and to increase the detail by which metagenomes can be screened for phenotypically important differences.
While I did write the code for the software (with a lot of input from Viktor Jonsson, who also is a coauthor on the preprint, on the statistical analysis), Shruthi did the software testing and evaluations, and the paper would not have been possible hadn’t she wanted a bioinformatic summer project related to metagenomics, aside from her laboratory work. The resulting preprint is available from bioRxiv and the Mumame software is freely available from this site.
- Magesh S, Jonsson V, Bengtsson-Palme J: Quantifying point-mutations in metagenomic data. bioRxiv, 438572 (2018). doi: 10.1101/438572 [Link]
- Kraupner N, Ebmeyer S, Bengtsson-Palme J, Fick J, Kristiansson E, Flach C-F, Larsson DGJ: Selective concentration for ciprofloxacin in Escherichia coli grown in complex aquatic bacterial biofilms. Environment International, 116, 255–268 (2018). doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2018.04.029 [Paper link]
- Lundström S, Östman M, Bengtsson-Palme J, Rutgersson C, Thoudal M, Sircar T, Blanck H, Eriksson KM, Tysklind M, Flach C-F, Larsson DGJ: Minimal selective concentrations of tetracycline in complex aquatic bacterial biofilms. Science of the Total Environment, 553, 587–595 (2016). doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.02.103 [Paper link]
- Bengtsson-Palme J, Boulund F, Fick J, Kristiansson E, Larsson DGJ: Shotgun metagenomics reveals a wide array of antibiotic resistance genes and mobile elements in a polluted lake in India. Frontiers in Microbiology, 5, 648 (2014). doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2014.00648 [Paper link]
- Kristiansson E, Fick J, Janzon A, Grabic R, Rutgersson C, Weijdegård B, Söderström H, Larsson DGJ: Pyrosequencing of antibiotic-contaminated river sediments reveals high levels of resistance and gene transfer elements. PLoS ONE, Volume 6, e17038 (2011). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0017038.